What Happened to the Emu Industry in Texas?

Texas usually conjures up images of wild horses and herds of cattle, but those aren't the only large creatures known for ranging across the state. Some are of a two-legged, avian variety.

After a downturn in the emu ranching industry in the 1990s, Texans reported seeing herds of feral birds roaming the state.
After a downturn in the emu ranching industry in the 1990s, Texans reported seeing herds of feral birds roaming the state.

In the early 1990s, many ranchers in Texas opted into the emu craze, pinning their breeding hopes on the Australian bird that some believed would replace cattle as the meat of choice for millions. But by the middle of the decade, it became clear that beef wasn't going to get beat, and the emu market dropped fast. With a pricey feeding schedule and no one buying their meat, the emus quickly became too costly to keep, and many of the ranchers cut them loose.

By the late 1990s, hundreds or even thousands of the large birds were at large. There were reports of emus forcing cars off highways, frightening farm animals and farm owners, and being a general nuisance. Animal control and law-enforcement personnel were inundated with calls, but had limited resources -- and limited experience with such creatures.

"We sent out our cowboys after the first emu, and that emu whipped our cowboys pretty bad," Grayson County Chief Deputy Waldrip told The Dallas Morning News in 1998. "The cowboys said, 'We quit.' We realized right quick we weren't set up to deal with this."

The amazing, amusing emu:

  • Emus are second to the ostrich in bird size, with some growing to around 6 feet (2 m) in height and 120 pounds (54 kg) in weight.

  • Emus are the only birds with gastrocnemius muscles, which on a human form what we call the calf.

  • In emu courtship, it's the female that chases the male, and after laying her eggs, gives over nesting duties to her partner.

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    • After a downturn in the emu ranching industry in the 1990s, Texans reported seeing herds of feral birds roaming the state.
      After a downturn in the emu ranching industry in the 1990s, Texans reported seeing herds of feral birds roaming the state.